Esther Fitzgerald
Rare Textiles

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Research on:





God and Beer
A Domestic Furnishing Fabric
enlarge.
 
Block printed on cotton in the last quarter of the 18th century in Alsace.
Measurements: 76x43in./193cms x111cm.

These graphic pictorial prints were an essential requirement for the upwardly mobile of late 18th century France. They had come to replace brocade as a furnishing fabric of choice. These rural scenes displayed an awareness of the philosophy of Rousseau.
The mystery is: why does it depict a Star of David over what appears to be a public house? This symbol was not exclusively Jewish. It had roots in sacred geometry.

Its power having been realized in India, China, Persia, Egypt, Greece and by the Jews, Christians and Moslems also, Freemason and Alchemist, but in this rural, context it was likely to be Jewish for several very practical reasons:
1.Three quarters of the Jewish population of France lived in Rural Alsace
2.One of the few professions that Jews were permitted to practice was inn keeping.
3.Contemporary to the textile, major changes in the Jewish way of life in Alsace were in progress
.
In France as in the rest of Western Europe the Enlightenment was fostering respect for the individual and asserting basic equality of all human beings. Thus the stage was set for Jews to be finally admitted as equals into the societies of Europe. In Alsace, where the majority of French Jews lived, several prominent, wealthy Jews r gained favour in society. Thanks to these privileges, there sprang into existence a class of rich Jews who were open minded, subtle, refined and intellectual. These privileges had been granted to Cerf Berr, who enlisted the help of the influential philosopher Moses Mendelssohn to write a report addressing the political reform of the Jews in Alsace. {Since the Middle Ages, Jews had been subjected to a compulsory body tax and they were forced to live in Shtetles, forbidden to own land and restricted to certain professions.}

My subjective view is that the textile was commissioned in what turned out to be a brief moment of optimism, by a wealthy charismatic Jew, hoping that in the new world emergent in France attitudes were certain to change. Adding a Star of David to a Rousseauesque design would be an expression of growing confidence and a willingness to become part of the wider secular culture amongst Jews. - Not as has been suggested a satirical look at Jewish life. Such parodies did appear in print in periodicals, but one would hardly embellish a textile, which hung in a home with such a sentiment. Also at this time the six-pointed star had not developed as a recognizable Jewish symbol. It's universal significance would have been known to an educated Jew.
Subsequent Research
In June we had sold the textile to a noble soul who planned to give it to a Jewish Museum, subject to the research proving correct.

In July a letter arrived from a scholar explaining that a six-pointed star was a sign in Alsace for quality beer. Therefore the textile was of no Jewish interest.

My first reaction was that this couldn't be right. Why would a brewer use a sacred symbol to sell beer ?. In the very same area, Jews were being liberated and the six -pointed star was consciously being adopted as a sign to represent the Jewish faith, in the same manner that the Cross represented Christianity.

I next contacted Molou Schneider at The Strasburg Museum. She confirmed to me;
that the six-pointed star hung from taverns in Alsace up until the Nazi occupation.
I asked her whether there was an explanation for this and also when had it first been introduced?
A few weeks later I received information that the six-pointed star had been a medieval guild sign for brewing, rather like a present day trading standard. It was speculated that the sign had been borrowed from alchemy where it represents the point of transmutation.

During the Inquisition at the end of the 12th century both Jews and alchemists were either killed or expelled from Strasburg. The symbol of the six-pointed star was outlawed. There is no evidence of it reappearing until the end of 18*n century.

It appears that the six-pointed star had its renaissance at the end of 18th century in two highly diverse guises. This could have been very innocent, both being the result of the Enlightenment.

What is surprising is that throughout the 19th century these separate guises co- existed. The Star of David developed very successfully as a symbol of Jewish faith. - As France had been the first country to liberate Jews they defined the guidelines for the rest of Europe. The Jews of Alsace had been highly influential in this process. If the six pointed star had such a high profile as a trading standard for beer why did the Jews chose to develop it into sign to represent their faith? Far from having no Jewish interest this textile is a catalyst for Jewish interest.
References:
Anti -Semitism its history and causes by Bernard Lazare1897
Judaism as revealed legislation by Moses Mendelssohn 1767
Editdu Roi published in Colmar, at Decker January 17th 1784
Stag Berr: representative of a Jewish nation of Alsace 1726-1793. by Chief Rabbi Warschawski
The Alsatian Jews - Should They Be Granted Equal Rights?" published in 1790.
A History of the Jews, Sachar, Abram Leon, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 193

Identical piece but with bearded figures:
Cooper-Hewitt Museum, Acquisition number: 1954-14 8-1, catalogued as Alsace, 18th Century
Similar textiles published in this rural theme but without a Star of David:
Western European printed textiles 16th-18th century State Hermitage Collection t4059
Les delice des quarter saisons designed by Jean-Baptiste Huet c 1785 Jouy, Musee Oberkampf 9831512. Published in Toiles de Jouy by Josette Bredif page 89
Le Fete Flammande
circa 1797, designed by Jean-Baptiste Huet. Jouy Oberkampf Musee 97812b published as above page 13.